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Studying Losing Motivation in Studying

  1. Oct 21, 2016 #1
    Hi everyone.
    I'm a final year undergraduate physics student, in fact, in my final semester wrapping up courses & my thesis. I had dreamed about getting PhD, becoming a decent physicist and such but...the truth is, I am not even sure if I want to continue going down that path anymore.

    Here is my story.
    I have been very interested in Astronomy since I was very very young, I would read a lot of popular science books in the library and even go sky-gazing camps before age 10. I was very motivated to become an astronomer, and obviously that was a very romantic dream by then.

    Anyway I can say I am decently intelligent, I then started my Physics undergraduate degree in university and I hit my first obstacle.
    I wasn't aware of the fact that I have to do all areas of Physics before doing Astronomy, and at the time I wasn't very interested in everything (who would be interested in literally every field of physics?) So I had an attitude of "OK, whatever"; and proceed to try to go through all the first semester courses with minimum effort (This would work in high school, things are easy enough that you don't really have to study for it).
    Obviously grades did not end very well at the time. (such as, I specifically sucked at Newtonian mechanics by then, yet fairly decent in Lagrangian, I do not know why)

    Being a person with quite high expectation, the grades did not sit well with me. And eventually I have to accept the fact that, if I want to do Astronomy, if I ever want to have any chance of getting a PhD and proceed to do things with my beloved Universe, I have to suck it all up, get good grades so I can get into a decent post-graduate program.

    As I mentioned, I am fairly intelligent so I still can pass everything with just reading things and not even doing the exercises myself. I proceeded to force myself into lectures, trying to cram topics that I don't even want to look at (ya, there are topics that are so clumsy and annoy me so much).
    Eventually I realize I am burning out.

    Sure thing, my grades are improving as I have been forcing myself to spend time on everything that are thrown at me, I am getting decent grades in more difficult courses.
    But the more I do this, the more I do not want to have anything to do with Physics.
    It feels like I have been spending a large enough portion of my time forcing myself, and during my "free time" I just want to indulge myself in anything else, games, movies, whatever; something that does not make me think about Physics.

    I am not saying I find all fields of Physics boring or discouraging for me, I have discovered some fields being quite intriguing and interesting too; but as for others that I have keep forcing myself, I do not find the motivation to do extra work on the subject, even try to avoid it.
    I fell into a trap that I am studying for grades (the greater good?) instead of for my passion and interest.

    My lack of motivation of studying physics is not from the difficulty of physics itself....I can handle the difficulty just fine, in fact some courses like Statistical Mechanics I found them easy; but rather the tedious classes and lectures and exercises that come with it...
    I mean, who wants to sit in a classroom listening to a terrible lecture speaker reading off a PDF/Powerpoint for 2 hours when you can read the whole thing in 30 minutes or less?

    I still keep my interests in Astronomy and some areas of Physics but I am hardly finding motivation to do anything about Physics outside course works. I wanted to become motivated again as it is before, where I would read a lot of books and still feel addicted.
    In fact, this is exactly why I am uncertain whether I should go on with doing a Masters or just leave it and keep it as a hobby. During summer holidays, after I'm "cooled down" and had a break from it, I will feel motivated to pick up a book and read to learn something.
    All I can see now is even more endless amount of tedious lectures and homework. I don't see Physics, I don't see the fascinating stuff, I just see numbers and equations.

    Anyone been in my situation can give me some advice about this?
    Thanks for reading.
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 21, 2016 #2
    There was nothing like flipping burgers to bring back my motivation.

    Physics ain't all unicorns and rainbows, that's for sure.

    You have to want it, and you have to earn it.

    Did you even take the PGRE? With that poor attitude, I'd bet you were lower than the 50th percentile.

    Astro is an area where you really need to have all of the core undergrad classes mastered.
  4. Oct 21, 2016 #3
    A lot of people come to this realization while completing a physics major, unfortunately. And that's why a lot of people decide not to go to grad school. Nothing wrong with that.
  5. Oct 21, 2016 #4
    I do not quite understand what you are trying to say (except the last sentence) and I wonder if you understand what I was saying.
  6. Oct 21, 2016 #5
    There will always be ups and downs in passion and interest. There will be stretches where you just have to plod on until the passion and interest get going again.

    If you are incapable of plodding on, you are not cut out for this profession. Go ahead and get out now.

    For me, it wasn't always about what I wanted to do (physics), but there were times when my main motivation was what I didn't want to do (work in restaurants and flip burgers). Be aware of both the carrot (passion and interest) and the stick (lousy jobs).
  7. Oct 21, 2016 #6


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    Don't let what Dr. Courtney is saying make you believe that your only options in life are physics or flipping burgers. There are so many jobs out there that pay well you have no idea. I know people that never went to college and have the same job as me as an engineer. It's a big world out there and a lot more than you can even imagine.
  8. Oct 22, 2016 #7


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    I don't think that was his intent, what he probably meant was that being thrown into the world were you need a job to survive and realize you have no real skills beyond tedious low paying manual labor will make a student realize school is easy and something worth doing.

    Sure there are some engineers who never had formal training, but you can count them on one hand, and almost guarantee they've some kind of technical training. You also see them generally in systems engineering or field engineering roles, not design. But this isn't what the threads about, the threads about the OP being lazy and questioning his path. With good reason.

    If you want to do astronomy (observation, theory, whatever) you need to nuckledown and push through the rest of the undergrad degree. Assuming you're in the US you'll apply for a PhD program in Astronomy and see alot more astronomy related coursework at that time. Right now you just have to make sure you earn marks high enough so you can get accepted somewhere.
  9. Oct 22, 2016 #8
    You could always learn a trade.
  10. Oct 22, 2016 #9
    Let me put it this way, I have a handful of skills, I can speak a couple of languages, I am not anywhere worrying about unemployment. There are lots of things I can do other than science.
    Meanwhile, I would like to continue my study and go down this path.
    But undergraduate stuff is more tedious than difficult (as someone put it, undergrad QM course is just following a cookbook, how hard can it get?).
    It feels more like doing what someone tells you to do instead of doing something innovative, interesting (if you get what I mean)
    My grades are fine, I'm not struggling to get into Masters, but I can't help but thinking doing Masters will just be doing course works like this.
  11. Oct 22, 2016 #10
    My point about flipping burgers was mostly related to my own personal experience and motivation. While I don't think many STEM majors who graduate with good GPAs will face employment problems, I have observed the general trend that STEM majors who work in science or engineering are happier in their jobs than STEM majors who don't.

    In most undergrad experiences, the more interesting and innovative opportunities are in the lab and research opportunities. The cookbook coursework is necessary for building a toolbox with lots of options for interesting and innovative work later. The bigger your toolbox, the better you'll be at research and the better you'll be at a lot of engineering jobs too. It's better that you be the one who is frustrated with the small toolset of colleagues than for colleagues and employers to be frustrated with your small toolbox.

    Having recognized your preference for more innovative and interesting (and sub-field specific) work in your Masters program, you should be intentional in looking for that. Look for one that requires a research thesis, that focuses more on astronomy and astrophysics, and that is less of a higher level repeat of quantum mechanics, classical mechanics, thermo (stat mech) and E&M. For me, I needed to revisit those in some detail my first two years of grad school: it was important to solidifying and building my toolbox. It may not be for you.

    I only ever took two courses in my sub-field (AMO physics). It was more of a baptism by fire on the research side and self-studying for the AMO part of my general exams.
  12. Oct 22, 2016 #11


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    You want to go down this path, but you don't want to have to do the tedious bits that everyone else has done, that must be done.

    Okay then quit? Take some time off and work in something other than science. That's the only good advice for you. Maybe you'll go back to school with a different attitude later.
  13. Oct 22, 2016 #12


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    Eventually you'll get to a situation where this no longer works. Lot's of students crash when this happens. It's not a matter of being intelligent enough or not. Eventually you need to learn by working though problem sets or getting your hands dirty in the labs, or struggling with something that doesn't already have an easy solution.

    Perhaps you just need more of a challenge? Enroll in something more advanced. If you're finding upper level undergraduate courses just tedious, talk to your professors and see about enrolling in a graduate level class.

    Well, you agreed to pay a heck of a lot of money to do just that, didn't you?

    If you find that most of your classes aren't giving you the value you expect, you might want to find a different school. Lectures aren't meant to be entertaining, but you should be seeing some added value in the professor's experience and insights with the material. Your other option is to stop attending. Some students find they do much better reading the material on their own and then show up only to hand in assignments and for examinations. I've never put much stock in that personally, but everyone learns differently. If you'd be better off reading, why not try that?

    Maybe you need to spend some time researching things on your own. I find this is where a lot of motivation really derives from. Students often have so much assigned material that they "have" to cover, that there isn't a lot of room left over for self-directed learning. But it's the self-directed stuff that will inspire you. So make time to do your own reading and learn about something independent of your classes.
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